Something folks don’t often think of in the winter time, as they transition from 3-season hiking to 4-season hiking, is water. The rest of the year you don’t need to worry much about your water. Toss it in a Nalgene, or in a hydration bladder, and be on your way.
When winter comes around, and temperatures drop below freezing, a new difficulty presents itself – your water freezes. In this post, I am going to take a look at a few ways of carrying water, and ways to keep it from freezing.
Whether it is a Nalgene, or other water bottle (there are too many brands to mention!), I offer the following recommendations:
- Use a wide-mouth bottle
- narrow-mouthed bottles, like that of a bottle of spring water, present an actual honest-to-god “bottleneck”, where water has a smaller space to freeze together. With wide-mouth bottles, it takes a lot longer for this to happen.
- Leave the non-insulated metal bottles at home
- Metal is a fantastic conductor of heat! If you have a thin-walled, non-insulated water bottle, such as your every-day SIGG bottle, the water will cool down much faster due to the metals’ ability to transfer heat, will cool that water down very fast, and give it a great surface to freeze against. You are also in danger of hurting yourself here… remember “A Christmas Story”? Yep, you don’t want to have your hiking buddies triple-dog daring you to have a drink of water.
- Thermos containers are insulated, and better suited for this task.
- Stick with plastic! It is much less of a conductor of heat than metal is.
- INSULATE YOUR BOTTLE!
- Just as you are insulating yourself, insulate your bottle. I use this neoprene insulated carrier for my Nalgene in the winter. It gives your water another layer of protection from the elements.
- Use a heating pad
- Toss a hand-warmer in your insulated sleeve to help keep your water warm. NOT IN YOUR WATER! If you are doing the work keeping your water above freezing, then those are your calories that are warming that water. If you can use something else – it is highly recommended.
- Store your bottle upside-down
- Store it upside down in your pack, this way, the bulk of the water is against the cap of the bottle, and takes more time to freeze. The ocean takes a LOT longer to freeze than a small puddle. That same logic can be applied here.
- Store your bottle close to your body
- If you are not using a heating pad, or even if you are, if you are hiking and generating heat, keep your stored bottle against your back within your pack, so it can use heat already being expended from your body to keep that water above the freezing point.
Now that we’ve covered water bottles, lets cover hydration bladders. A lot of the same techniques mentioned above still apply here as well. More on my opinion on these in a moment, but for now, my recommendations:
- INSULATE! INSULATE! INSULATE!
- The straw, or drinking tube from the bladder which is there to help get the water from your bladder to your mouth, is small, and can easily freeze, since it is unprotected. Most companies offer insulation for both the bladder as well as the drinking tube, also made of neoprene. The will help layer your water so it has less of a chance of freezeing.
- Keep your hydration bladder against your body
- Just as with water bottles, keeping the bladder against your body is key to keeping it from freezing. Just about every pack that is hydration bladder compatible keeps it right along your spine – so you don’t have to do anything. If you do not have a sleeve, and it sits at the bottom of your pack, do something to move it.
- Along these lines, some bladders have a carabiner hook place on them, like my Platypus Hoser, which can be used to hook to say, the fabric lift/hanging hook found at the top of most packs, which can keep it centered along your back. You can then use some duct-tape, or another method to secure it in place so it does not wobble… you risk here getting adhesive mess over everything though.
- HAND WARMERS!
- Just as I mentioned for water bottles – you can do the same with hydration bladders. Toss a few hand-warmers AROUND the bladder, not in it, to help keep it toasty.
- Cover the bite valve
- This goes along with #1 – insulation for the most part, as most insulation kits come with a bite-valve cover. The bite valve will not have a lot of water near it all of the time, so keeping it protected is key, as a few minutes in 0 degree weather will freeze that right up.
My preference in the winter is to use either a bladder only as storage, or, just use Nalgene bottles. The hose on a hydration bladder, even when insulated, still has a tendency to freeze. So, take these recommendations and opinions, and formulate your own. Being thirsty with a solid block of ice when doing strenuous winter hiking is just a terrible spot to be in. Especially if you are without fire.